It could have been a perfect spring day in May back in Iowa.
It was a perfect spring day in God only knew what month on a planet light years from Earth.
"A difference which makes no difference is no difference."
Captain James T. Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise recalled Spocks words as he let the golden sunshine play over his face. He hadnt been this relaxed in--what, years? Even though it was all an illusion, it was all too easy to be seduced by the realness of it all.
Kirk sighed wistfully as he strolled along the trail. The lake reminded him so much of the fishing hole back on the Kirk farm in Iowa that he half-expected to see the old farmhouse on the other side of the hill. He had spent many a lazy, sun-dappled afternoon at that lake fishing with his grandfather, Samuel Kirk.
A lump formed in his throat as he thought of the stocky old man he had idolized as a young boy. The last time he had seen Pop alive was after his graduation from the Academy, just before he left for the Farragut. They had hugged ferociously, as if each of them knew theyd never see each other again...
He still missed Pop, to this day.
Those had been great times. Sometimes, when he was a little boy, he would get bored and fidgety and skip stones across the water, and catch twenty kinds of Hell from Pop. It was only later, as he grew older, that he realized half the fun of going fishing was the chance to just sit and be with Pop, and to talk.
His eyes lit on a perfectly flat stone lying at the edge of the path. With a mischievous smile, he picked it up and tossed it. The rock skipped once, twice, three times, four, five, six...
"Hey, Ti how many times do I have to tell you, goldurnit? Dont throw rocks--youll scare the fish away!"
Kirk felt the blood drain from his face.
That voice--it cant be!
No one had ever called him Ti, except...
He lifted his eyes slowly, and his mouth sagged open.
There he was, sitting on the battered but sturdy old dock on the other side of the lake, just as he had on that last day before Jim had left for the Academy. Wearing that "go-to-Hell" goofy-assed hat with the lures clipped to it, the same old worn fishing vest, flannel shirt and jeans. A smile split his seamed, leathery face.
They had buried the old man in his fishing outfit.
"Well, dont just stand there, boy! The fish are bitin! I already got your gear over here."
This couldnt be! The beloved old man he called "Pop" had been long gone for three decades, resting forever on a hillside on the farm, under a majestic old oak tree.
James T. Kirk stepped slowly, tentatively forward, as if the illusion would burst at any moment, like a soap bubble in the breeze. He didnt want it to burst. He held his breath "Pop?"
His voice was a strangled whisper.
He was still there.
Kirk began to jog, then to run. "Pop!"
He circled the lake quickly, sprinting over the dirt path now, pounding up the rickety wooden ramp with the plank missing. As he closed in on his grandfather, he could smell the overpowering scent of the cheap aftershave the old man had worn for as long as Kirk could remember. He could see Pops favorite worn, blue flannel shirt with the top button missing.
Then he crushed Samuel Kirk to him in a bear hug, fighting back tears. "Pop!"
His grandfather returned the hug and patted him on the back, seemingly embarrassed.
"Whoa, boy, whats this?" his gravelly voice barked. "You act like you aint seen me in thirty years."
Thats just about right, Kirk thought.
All the reservations he had felt about the illusory nature of this planet faded from his mind. He didnt care that this couldnt possibly be his grandfather. He wanted this badly. He was more than willing to suspend his disbelief for a while.
"A difference which makes no difference is no difference..."
Other heroes would have to watch over the galaxy for the time being. He'd done his share, defeating the Kelvan invasion fleet. The Enterprise had stopped off at Omicron Delta V for a brief respite before returning to Earth.
Right now, he was goin fishin with his grandpa!
Pop handed him his rod and reel, his old vest, and...
It couldnt be!
It was his old Iowa Hawkeyes ball cap, which he had always worn to keep off the sun when he had gone fishing. Hed carelessly left it lying in a tool shed a few weeks before he was to ship out to Starfleet Academy, and Garth the barn cat had a field day shredding it to ribbons.
Everything was perfect down to the last detail--even the sweat stain on the underside of the bill. Kirk loosened the adjustable sizing band and jammed the cap on his head.
"Cap still fits, eh, Ti?" Pop asked. "'Bout time you got home for a visit. Youve really filled out since you went joined Starfleet."
"Guess this life agrees with me, Pop."
The illusion was so heart-wrenchingly, intoxicatingly real. Pop--here, alive. The smell of dirt in paper cups, with fat earthworms squirming inside. He decided he would give in to it fully--at least for a while.
"Whoa, got one!" Pop exclaimed as his rod bent precipitously, and the line sang as it whizzed off the reel. "Big bass--headin out for deep water!"
Kirk watched almost rapturously, drinking in the familiar image of the old man working the rod and reel like a virtuoso, masterfully playing the fish until it was exhausted.
"Largemouth--a whopper," Samuel Kirk said as he reeled in his catch. The big fish flopped feebly on the end of the line. The old man gently worked the hook out of the basss jaw and dropped him back into the lake. The fish swam gratefully away and broke the emerald surface once with a splash. Concentric silvery ripples eddied out toward the banks of the lake.
"So, howve you been, Pop?"
"Same old, same old, Ti, ceptin its a little harder t get around than it used to be. Gotta check out a new tractor this afternoon."
Kirk chuckled. "Still have to check out all the new farm equipment before you let the hired hands use it, eh, Pop?"
Samuel Kirk nodded. "Yep. Gotta make sure it performs up to my standards." He glanced up at the sky. "Beautiful day, aint it?"
"You know it!"
Kirk grinned up at the crystalline sky. It was brilliantly, intensely blue, the same shade as Earth. Not a cloud was to be seen.
They sat making small talk, even reeled in an occasional fish--which Pop immediately turned loose. Kirk savored every second.
It wasnt often you got an opportunity to relive your childhood.
The hours passed by slowly, idyllically, until the sun was on the zenith. It was pleasantly warm. Kirks stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadnt eaten in a while.
As if on cue, Samuel Kirk produced an insulated flexible picnic sack.
"Your Ma made some of her famous fried chicken," Pop said.
Jim Kirk smiled affectionately. "Its always great when its cold," he opined. "She make any of her potato salad too?"
"Of course," Pop replied, his face wreathed in a smile. "Her boys home. Nothings too good. Biscuits and seasoned green beans, too."
It was their traditional "fishin lunch," even though it was a feast fit for a kings table. Everything was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, just as he remembered it.
"Hope you dont get tired of it," Pop said. "Your Mas gonna make it again tomorrow. Shes having a family picnic."
"I never get tired of it--you know that! Its my favorite."
They finished lunch, washing it down with Marjorie Kirks fresh-squeezed lemonade. Kirk settled back, his cap pulled down over his eyes, comfortably full. He gazed out across the water. Specular reflections of bright sunlight danced on its surface.
"Hey, Pop?" Kirk asked after a long stretch of companionable silence. "Did you ever catch Old Scar?"
He knew the answer, but he asked anyway.
No one had ever taken a pan to Old Scar, the legendary channel catfish that prowled the Kirk fishing hole. For all he knew, the big fish still swam free in the lake.
"Nope. Dont know as Ill ever get the chance. Im gettin on in years, yknow. Hes still out here, though." Pop chuckled. "He remembers me; Im the one who gave him his scar, yknow. I almost had him. He was jumpin and leapin, tryin to get the hook out of his jaw. He got it loose, but as he was comin back down, the hook grazed his left side and scored him the length of his body. Every once in a while he comes to the top and stares at me with that big eye and lets me see his scar. I yell at him that Im gonna stuff and mount him if I ever catch him!"
Kirk smiled mischievously. "Why dont you cast over there by that log near that clump of reeds?"
"Why not? Thats the kind of cover they like."
Samuel Kirk tossed his baited hook into the lake with a splash.
Almost instantaneously, the surface erupted in a roiling explosion of emerald water. Pops rod bent nearly in half. He staggered forward and almost went over the dock railing, pulled off-balance by the behemoth on the other end of the line.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" he cried. "Its him! Its either him or a frickin great white shark!"
For the next half hour, James T. Kirk enjoyed the spectacle of the epic battle between man and fish--the master angler and the wily monarch of the lake. Pops shirt became soaked through with sweat as he turned in the fishing performance on f his life. His face was beet red, and he was breathing hard. Old Scar, for his part, tested the old man to his limits, putting up a hellacious fight, tacking and running, trying to go deep, trying to run for the reeds. Pop, however, kept reeling him back, away from the entangling thickets.
Finally, just when it seemed that Pop was at the end of his endurance, the fish stopped struggling.
Old Scar was exhausted.
"You got him, Pop!" Kirks voice caught in his throat. "I...I always w-wanted to see you catch Old Scar!" He helped Pop pull the huge channel cat out of the lake. The thing looked as if it was nearly four feet long and felt like it weighed half a ton.
"Dang it, look at the size of that monster!" Pop exulted. "Careful, Ti watch that dorsal fin. Itll go right through your hand!"
Old Scar lay on the dock in a green puddle, his sides heaving. His tail flipped weakly from time to time. Kirk helped Pop wrestle the fish up into the dock scale.
"Whoo-ee! Ninety-seven pounds! Thats gotta be an Iowa state record!"
"So, are you going to have him stuffed?" Kirk asked. "Does Jeb Pearson still have his taxidermy shop in Riverside?"
Pop didnt answer.
He stared down at the monster catfish. Old Scar glared back at him with one huge eye, piteously, almost pleadingly. His tail flips grew weaker by the second.
"Help me get him back in the lake, Ti."
"What?" Kirk asked incredulously. "After all these years, now that you finally caught him, youre going to turn him loose?"
At that moment, the full realization of how seductive these illusions were struck home. Kirk had to remind himself that Pop and Old Scar--were, as Spock had put it, "animated cellular castings."
The old man turned toward Kirk, his eyes bright.
"Dont seem right somehow, Ti," he drawled. "Help me get him back in."
Between the two of them, they managed to get Old Scar back in the water. The big catfish defiantly flipped his tail, splashing water on them, before he dived down deep beneath the surface. Kirk and Pop got a good laugh out of that and settled back in their chairs, drenched.
The late afternoon shadows were growing long, and the fish had stopped biting.
"You comin up for dinner tonight, Ti?"
"Probably not, Pop. Ive got to be...getting back soon."
"Well, make sure you come for the picnic tomorrow," the old man urged. "Samll be there, with Aurelan."
"Sam?" Kirk asked, brightening.
"Actually, theyre up on the hill with you Ma right now. Look--theyre wavin."
The woods on the hillside were gone, magically replaced by a sea of waving corn, and the Kirk farmhouse. His mother Marjorie was in the backyard hanging up laundry.
And there were Sam and Aurelan with her, looking just as they had when they had first gotten married. All three were waving at him.
For the second time that day, James T. Kirk was moved to tears. Sam and Aurelan had been dead almost as long as Pop, and his mother Marjorie had been gone for seven years. The Enterprise would be leaving orbit in less than an hour or so. "Pop, Id love to come to the picnic tomorrow," Kirk said, "but it'll have to be next time. I've got to report back to duty soon. But I promise, next time we're here, IIll be there with bells on."
His communicator beeped for attention. "Kirk here."
"Captain, you asked that I contact you ten minutes before we leave orbit if I hadnt heard from you," Uhuras filtered voice said. "Well, sir, I havent heard from you!"
He grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Commander," he said. "I got...absorbed in what I was doing. Ill beam up shortly. Kirk out."
"Hey, Ti, make sure you get here early next time so we can do some fishin first," Pop urged. "Maybe youll get lucky and catch Old Scar again!"
Kirk smiled. "You never know."
He drew the old man into another bear hug. "I love you, Pop."
"Love you, too, Ti," Samuel Kirk replied. "Get a good nights sleep tonight. I'm sure youve got a full day tomorrow."
"Count on it."
Kirk strolled down the ramp and back along the path. He still had seven minutes left, and he intended to make the most of them. Then he thought of something he wanted to ask his grandfather. He turned around.
The dock was gone. So was Pop. So were his mother, and Sam and Aurelan, and the corn and the farmhouse. The trees sighed quietly in the gentle breeze.
His smile was bittersweet. Gone.A reminder of how things really were.
Still, he fully intended to give in to the illusion and attend the family picnic the next time the Enterprise came here--and go fishing with Pop.
"A difference which makes no difference is no difference..."
He flipped open his communicator. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Scott here, Captain."
"One to beam up, Scotty."
In loving memory of my Dad
June 22nd 1926 December 29th 2006
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